The prospect of a halt in the Obama administration's campaign to
win domestic and international support for a military strike
against Syria has eased global tension, but done nothing to
alleviate the suffering of millions of Syrians. Mr Obama said on
Monday that he was prepared to explore a Russian proposal that
Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons be placed under international
if the threat of imminent military intervention continues to
recede in the coming days, there will be a danger that the
international community expresses relief, and turns its attention
elsewhere, leaving the civil conflict in Syria to continue to kill,
wound, and uproot hundreds of thousands of civilians.
Over recent days, many senior church figures and world leaders
have been urging the US and other supporters of military action to
take steps instead to bring peace to Syria. Pope Francis on
Saturday led a day of prayers and vigils that were held all over
the world, calling for an end to the bloodshed. The Pope urged
world leaders to pull humanity out of a "spiral of sorrow and
death". He said: "Violence and war lead only to death; they speak
of death. Violence and war are the language of death."
A conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman, last week,
attended by about 50 Christian leaders from around the Middle East,
also heard calls for restraint, with expressions of fear over the
effect that an attack would have on Christians in the region. "We
stress that we reject foreign interference in Syria," the Patriarch
of Antioch for the Syrian Catholic Church, Ignatius Joseph III
Younan, said in a statement read before the conference.
The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, Pope Tawadros
II, was unable to attend because of the crisis in his own country.
But, in a statement, he said that Christians "don't accept any
intervention by foreign powers . . . to protect minorities. It is
basically a pretext . . . to advance their countries' interest in
the Middle East."
The Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the
Holy Land, the Rt Revd Munib Younan, was among several speakers who
warned that another Western military intervention in the region
would increase anti-Christian sentiments, and lead more people to
leave. "Do we run under the skirts of a warlord?" he asked. "Are we
weak and persecuted, and thus in a perpetual need of other
Christians to rescue us?" he asked. "No, we don't need that. We
seek justice, equality, dignity."
The fate of Christians in Syria is already becoming more
perilous by the day. The inhabitants of the small town of Maaloula,
north of Damascus, were forced to flee their homes on Monday, when
it was captured by Islamist rebel forces. Maaloula, a UNESCO
heritage site, is one of the few towns where people speak Aramaic,
the language of Christ.
It is no surprise that the exodus of Christians from Syria is
continuing. Nevertheless, the Melkite Greek Catholic Patriarch,
Gregory III Laham, has urged Christian families to stay. "I beg you
to remain here," he told a rally of the faithful in Damascus on
Sunday. "We're staying. If you leave, we leave. So we beg you, stop
coming to our priests asking for a visa. If you leave, who will
remain? Only our brethren the Muslims."
Whether they remain, or flee to neighbouring countries for
safety, millions of Syrians now require help to survive. Among the
many NGOs seeking to ease the burden of Syrian refugees is the
Anglican charity Us. (formerly USPG). It has launched two appeals
to encourage Anglicans and other churchgoers in Britain and Ireland
to reach out to Syrian refugees. The Us. campaign is being run in
collaboration with Embrace the Middle East (formerly Biblelands),
and will support an ecumenical network of churches reaching out to
Syria's two million refugees with food and other essentials (www.weareus.org.uk/latestupdates/syria/).
The director of Global Networking for Us., the Revd Canon Edgar
Ruddock, said: "While we have a responsibility to wrestle with the
very deep issues of history, culture, religion, and politics that
are the reality of the Middle East today, we have an even stronger
moral commitment to stand alongside all who are displaced, and all
who are powerless in the face of terrible suffering and hurt."
The Christian children's charity Global Care says that it has so
far raised almost £50,000 to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Global Care's partners there are providing monthly food parcels for
families living in tents and makeshift shelters after fleeing the
fighting in Syria. "Most of the families have nothing but the
clothes on their backs," Global Care says, "and all have suffered
When Global Care launched its appeal in March, there were
300,000 Syrian refugees living in dire conditions in Lebanon.
Today, there are more than 720,000 registered there, and thousands
more unregistered. A further estimated 3000 arrive each day.